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Shell Cup

Oswalt Haussner

Artwork Details

Shell Cup
circa 1640
Oswalt Haussner
12 3/8 in. x 5 5/16 in. x 3 15/16 in. ( 31.5 cm x 13.5 cm x 10 cm )
Museum purchase in honor of Professor Marvin Eisenberg, made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund


March 28, 2009
This elaborate piece imitates a nautilus cup, a type of vessel popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that featured a nautilus shell set in a decorative mount. Along with coconut and ostrich-egg cups, the nautilus cup’s combination of exotic natural object with human artistry was characteristic of the European elite collections known as Wunderkammer or Kunstkammer, which assembled various natural and man-made wonders. Here, the cup is surmounted by the goddess Fortuna with a billowing sail, a nautical image that resonates with the seashell form on which she stands. Her presence perhaps signaled the favor of wealth she had bestowed upon the owner of this elegant display piece. But the full sail might have also cautioned the owner to remember how quickly fortune could change, like the fickle, shifting winds.

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